Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Chat OT: What's up with Jerome Simpson's saga?

Posted by: under Vikings, Packers, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Anthony Herrera, Leslie Frazier, Phil Loadholt Updated: October 17, 2012 - 12:20 PM

If you missed my live Vikings chat on Tuesday afternoon, you can check in here and read the back and forth in full. In addition, each week I will attempt to go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion. Here are Tuesday’s leftovers.

Question 1: Regarding last week’s loss in Washington, do you think the Vikings’ style of play, particularly defensively, is more suited to a fast artificial turf as opposed to real grass?

Yeesh. I don’t know. I think that might be delving a little too deep into things. What I think is that the Vikings’ defense is better suited to not playing a ridiculously fast and athletic quarterback who also throws well and is operating in an unconventional system that uses a lot of zone read stuff that puts pressure on all three levels of the D. I really didn’t view RG3’s explosion Sunday as a step back for the defense. I don’t think anyone internally saw it that way either. The perfect “Get Well” game is coming Sunday against a back-up quarterback (Arizona’s John Skelton) with a terrible offensive line.

Question 2: How many sacks do you see the defense compiling, considering Arizona's offensive line issues?

The Cardinals have given up 22 sacks in the past three games alone. Only one other team in the NFL has given up more than 20 sacks all season. That’s Green Bay with 23. There’s a reason Kevin Kolb isn’t playing this week. The guy has been battered silly because the offensive line in front of him has been so inept. There’s no excuse for the Vikings not to take advantage. Yes, you still have to devote attention to Larry Fitzgerald. But if I’m defensive coordinator Alan Williams, I’m dialing up the pressure over and over and over again on Sunday until Arizona stops it. Last week, the Cardinals gave up five sacks to Buffalo and that was considered progress after what the Dolphins and Rams did. So, I’ll put the over-under on Vikings’ sacks at 5.5.

Question 3: Many people believe that the most important thing for good O-Line play is cohesion. Given that the Vikings' line is currently playing well despite the offseason changes, can our current line become a truly dominant one if we keep them together for a few years? I miss Anthony Herrera, but with the results so far this year, that is tempered somewhat.

Question 4: Last game the Vikings put in Geoff Schwartz at right guard, as a substitute for Brandon Fusco, just to "get some tape on him". I'm sure it's too early to make a switch at the guard position -- but are the coaches and team happy with the progress on the offensive line -- or are there changes a'comin?

Really good questions. First things first, I think we found one of the few folks who misses Anthony Herrera. Yes, Herrera played with a contagious feistiness and really made the most out of his potential for a long while with the Vikings. But let’s be honest, by the end of last season, Herrera wasn’t really producing. As far as the current o-line goes, that unit has been solid but not spectacular through six games. I’d still like to see Phil Loadholt show a little more consistency at right tackle.

And as for right guard, stay tuned on this one. Rick Spielman is a big fan of Brandon Fusco but Fusco himself will admit he’s struggled at times this season, still feeling out the NFL game. And when his confidence dips – and he admits it has – he gets a little bit too anxious.

Leslie Frazier may have done a great job of couching Schwartz’s Sunday insertion as a means of “getting some tape on him.” But in the middle of a tough road game during a three-game winning streak, you don’t just start trying to get tape on a guy (especially an offensive lineman) unless you have some level of seriousness in potentially working him into the mix. Remember, Schwartz didn’t play at all in 2011 and missed the preseason in 2012. So there’s only so much evaluation you can do on a guy in practice when the in-the-trenches warfare is kept to the bare minimum. So I understand the urge for the Vikings to want to get a fuller evaluation on Schwartz in live game action to figure out exactly what they have. But you only do that if there’s a small thought budding in the back of your mind that you might need to make a switch at that position at some point.

Fusco still is the starter at right guard. But these next three or four games will be critical for him to prove that he deserves to continue starting.

Question 5: What is going on with Jerome Simpson? The last thing we need is drama on this team. He says he was fine Sunday, yet the Vikes declared him inactive. What's the deal?

Question 6: Is there something going on behind the scenes with Jerome Simpson to explain why he did not play?

Question 7: Has any player in your memory had more irrational fan support and irrational expectations than Jerome Simpson? Especially given that he was a signed as a convicted felon who had a tendency to drop the easy pass and has seemed to have a difficult time staying on the field.

The Simpson mystery will be under the microscope this week, especially since he seemed so agitate that he couldn’t play in Washington. We still haven’t gotten clarification on just what the back injury that’s bothering him is specifically. And so it’s difficult to truly understand how much difficulty it could cause physically. But Simpson insists he’s fine and this week is his chance to prove it – both in practice and against Arizona.

I understand that there has been a lot of Jerome Simpson conversation since last spring. But there are reasons for that. First and foremost, the Vikings’ receiving corps beyond Harvin is as mediocre as you’ll find in the NFL. So when a guy comes in with track star speed and the ability to do flips over defensive backs, it’s understandable why there’s intrigue.

And now, with the Vikings clearly deficient when it comes to a vertical passing game, Simpson is the only logical catalyst to change that. So again, the intrigue grows.

Lastly, this Vikings team has been pretty good so far. And since Adrian Peterson’s odd July arrest, there have been few strange, controversial or conversation-worthy off-the-field storylines to follow. So the conversation has to go somewhere.

Question 8: Why is Kyle Rudolph dropping so many passes? Mel Kiper said his hands were his best attribute. Do you think it has something to do with those white gloves he wears? Or do you think Christian is just throwing off the mark?

Question 9: Rudolph seemed to have an off day against the ‘Skins. Many dropped passes and the holding call. Did he eat the same pregame meal as Blair Walsh?

First of all, if you’re worried about Kyle Rudolph’s hands, perhaps it’s time to queue up the second-half touchdown catch he had against San Francisco or the ridiculous TD grab he had two weeks later to put the exclamation point on that thrashing of Tennessee. Those catches are incredible examples of Rudolph’s strengths.

Furthermore, he did have six catches for 56 yards with both a 1-yard TD grab and a two-point conversion catch against Washington. So that takes us to the other six passes thrown Rudolph’s way in Washington that he didn’t catch. Here’s the assessment of those:

  • Second quarter, 10:44 left, first-and-10 from the Minnesota 36: Christian Ponder’s pass toward Rudolph in the flat is at the tight end’s shoe tops. Not a drop.
  • Second quarter, 1:59 left, second-and-3 from the Minnesota 30: Ponder’s pass 9 yards down the field is a bit left of Rudolph who has Redskins defenders on both sides of him. Not a drop.
  • Third quarter, 6:38 left, first-and-10 from the Redskins 39: On play action, Ponder’s pass to Rudolph is nowhere close. High and right. Incomplete.
  • Fourth quarter, 10:44 left, second-and-2 from the Redskins 36. On a quick, over the middle pass 7 yards past the line of scrimmage, Rudolph bobbles and clearly drops a Ponder pass that was right on his numbers. This was his only true drop of the day.
  • Fourth quarter, 6:18 left, first-and-10 from the Minnesota 33. Another 7-yard, over-the-middle throw from Ponder to Rudolph is broken up nicely by linebacker Perry Riley. Tremendous defensive play.
  • Fourth quarter, 3:42 left, two-point conversion attempt. Rudolph is 2 yards deep in the end zone and Ponder puts a decent pass in his direction. But Riley impedes Rudolph’s movement by gripping his jersey on his left side just above his waist. The pass hits Rudolph’s outstretched left hand, but he has no chance of getting both mitts on it. Rudolph seemed infuriated to not get a pass interference call. Verdict: Not a drop.

Lastly, for clarification, Rudolph did not have a holding penalty Sunday. It was a false start in the final minute that nullified Adrian Peterson’s 1-yard TD run. Just a flinch that he got called for.

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